Actually, scratch that – this post should be called rude man, woman, and child, because these days, it seems like everyone and their mother engages in rude behavior. And I’ve had enough.
I’ve wanted to write this post for a while now; the thoughts behind it creating the impetus to write have been in the back of my mind for some time now as I make my way to my crowded Monday morning commute, shop for groceries on Sunday evening, or go to the movies with my boyfriend.
Or perhaps, instead of being in the back of my mind, they are at the forefront of my every day experiences. Perhaps it’s an accumulation of minuscule, routine triggers during these quotidian events that simply build and build, each incident amplifying the next until they blind you with the obvious truth: we are living in a world where being inconsiderate is the norm, and where polite, conscientious behavior in which people *actually* think about someone besides themselves is as rare as getting a seat on the subway at rush hour.
What do I mean?
Pervasive societal rudeness is walking back to my apartment after an exhausting day with six large, heavy grocery bags, three in each hand, when a group of four people walking in a straight line in front of me barrels through without moving or sharing the sidewalk, forcing me to sidestep to squeeze by them, almost dropping my bags when one of the guys can’t even slightly turn his shoulder to avoid hitting me. Immediately following this I pick up the pace to get home faster, because the groceries are now getting heavier after being jostled around, when the girl walking right in front of me, oblivious to the world, abruptly stops in the middle of the sidewalk to look at her phone. I almost crash into her as she furiously texts at a standstill, and again, am forced to sidestep and almost drop my bags as someone less patient behind me barrels around to the side.
It’s the guy in front of you walking up the subway exit stairs at a snail’s pace while looking at his phone, unaware or simply not caring that there is a line of 50+ people behind him who all want to get home. Evidently, whatever is going on in his tiny world on said tiny screen is more important than the lives of everyone else in the room.
It’s the person who doesn’t give up their seat for the elderly man with a cane clearly looking around somewhat desperately for an opening – he thinks he spots one, but some lady beckons to her perfectly able-bodied child to sit down, stretch his legs, and take up two seats instead.
It’s exiting a crowded train before your stop to let other people off, then when you try to get back on, finding that everyone else on the train who didn’t have the courtesy to let others off clambers to take your spot, almost forces you out of the car, and then gives you a dirty look when you squeeze your way back in.
It’s the person eating smelly french fries or halal cart food in a packed car, not caring to notice they are dripping food and crumbs onto the floor that you are forced to stand on because someone pushed you out of the way for a vacant seat that you were walking towards and that was closer to you anyways. It’s the lady who decides that it’s okay to put her bare feet on your arm rest during a 9-hour transatlantic flight, or the guy who spends the entire 5-hour bus ride talking loudly on his cell phone to person after person while the rest of the bus tries to read or sleep.
A lot of these instances seem to revolve around technology and public transportation, but that’s not always the case.
It’s entering a shop behind a person who can’t even hold the door open as they walk through (never mind actually doing something nice like opening the door for you). It’s going to the movies and not being able to enjoy the experience anymore: a misbehaving group of teenage boys runs up and down the stairs, in and out of the theater, to the point where you have to go tell management they are being disruptive; a family with a seven year old boy sits behind you during an R-rated movie, loudly opens their smuggled fried chicken (I kid you not – this has actually happened to me) and talks at full-volume while letting their child yell out loudly and kick your seat, to the point that you have to literally stand up and turn around to get their attention in order to tell them that they are making it very difficult to hear the movie.
I could go on, but I think you get the point: It’s no wonder New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude.
But I suspect such disregard for others isn’t a problem unique to New York (though it may be amplified here due to the sheer number of people).
No, this behavior is predominant everywhere I’ve ever lived – New York, PA, California, even Italy – and it’s a problem. People living their lives as if they are the only ones who exist or, at the very least, the only ones who matter – has become a way of life, and it only seems to be getting worse.
My boyfriend and I talk about the “epidemic of pervasive rudeness” all the time. One of the things that really attracted me to him was how he is the exact opposite of this – a rare and dying breed of man who is kind, considerate, aware, and always trying to do the right thing. His empathy and concern for other people lead him to consistently be the one who will offer his seat up, hold open a door, be exceedingly friendly to waitstaff and doormen, and go out of his way to just be…nice.
Which is great for so many reasons, one of which is that sometimes all of this rude behavior can bring out some not-so-nice behaviors in a genuinely nice person. Because if you feel like you’ve been battered and bruised and like everyone is taking advantage of your niceness while you’re left missing the train, dropping your groceries, or losing out on an experience because someone quite-literally shoved you out of the way to get there first, you start to wonder: what’s the point? Why do I have to be quiet or stay off my phone when I’m at the movies with friends, when the person next to me is obnoxiously laughing with her friends and sending out constant text messages? Why should I move out of someone’s way when they obviously don’t care enough to move themselves and, in fact, almost seem like they expect me to move for them? Why should I wait to answer that text when I get home instead of while walking on the sidewalk, when the horizontal blockade of people in front of me are all on their phones impeding foot traffic? Why should I live by a different set of rules when it seems that everyone else lives by the rules of “Me, Me, Me?”
And this is where the problem gets dangerous: Rudeness, in turn, breeds more rudeness.
The problem only seems to get worse as the generations go on – I really can’t imagine things being like this in the 1950s, though I invite you to please correct me if I’m wrong. I believe part of it has to do with the rise of technology – swapping personal, face-to-face interactions for impersonal exchanges behind screens, by which we remove the individual element entirely and only communicate with another’s on-screen/digital/”Fakebook” persona. As such, we’ve almost forgotten what it means to connect with each other on a deeper, person-to-person level, which becomes evident in our day-to-day actions.
Part of it also has to do with the way children are raised today. Instead of correcting a child and teaching him or her that it’s not appropriate to talk during a movie, snatch an empty seat from an elderly person, or throw a never-ending tantrum at a quiet restaurant, parents instead default to “kids will be kids.” That is true, and I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a perfect child, but I certainly didn’t behave the way I see many kids behave today, and if I did, my parents made sure to remove me from said theater/restaurant/public location because – GASP! – they actually cared about other people’s experience and enjoyment, and respected their time/night out, too. What if you don’t have a lot of money so date night is rare and special, or it’s hard to get the whole family together for a movie night so when you do, you want to enjoy it? Our societal rudeness has gotten so bad that sometimes I don’t even want to go out because it’s more hassle than it’s worth.
It’s incredibly frustrating, but the answer to “why should I” is plain and simple: because it’s the right thing to do.
My boyfriend and I have talked about how sometimes we think the idea of bringing children into this world is foolish, given the way things are and how we, as a society, seem to be trending downwards with our manners, attitudes, and the way we treat each other. Why would I want to bring an innocent child into all of that? After all, I can try my best to raise him or her in a way that I feel is appropriate, but there are many other external factors (peers, teachers, pop culture) that go into the final “end product” of how a person turns out.
But lest we go on towards the fruitless path of nihilism, it seems fitting to end with some simple math. My boyfriend and I are two nice people. Let’s say that we maybe one day we have three children who we also raise to be respectful, kind, and considerate – that means there are five nice people. Those three nice children grow up and each make three nice children of their own – and so on and so on. Just like an East Village cockroach, rudeness can’t be eradicated entirely – but it can be overwhelmed by kindness, to the point where it begins to look out of place. We can make more “nice” people. As humans, it’s our responsibility to leave the world better than we left it – and that begins and ends with living principled lives of mutual respect and empathy.